When I got to the Toyota Center late Thursday afternoon, a few hours before the NBA Draft, I was stopped by the security guard at the media entrance and had to wait some time before getting clearance, as is fairly routine. Making conversation, I asked the guard if he was following the Rockets talk leading up to the NBA Draft.
"A little bit, a little bit. I do know one thing," said the man who works with the Rockets daily, grabbing my interest. "We traded Juwan Howard for um, ... for... I can't remember now."
He was serious, and I got a silent chuckle out of him being neither in the loop or a crazed fan.
But when I left the Toyota Center 6 hours later, fairly crushed by the day's events, and spotted the same guard laughing at a TV show and enjoying a snack drenched in cheesy goodness, I realized he was the smart one.
Diehard Rockets fans had to feel a little jilted Thursday night when the Rockets called out their first pick, the 26th overall selection. By the time David Stern had arrived at our number, power forwards Glen Davis out of LSU, Josh McRoberts out of Duke and Tiago Splitter from Brazil were all available.
Instead, when the commish called out Aaron Brooks, the 5-foot-11 point guard out of Oregon, I thought we've been down this Rodrick Rhodes before.
My immediate reaction? Bad joke. After a few seconds of thought? They're trading this pick.
Neither was right.
Rockets Director of Scouting Dean Cooper came down to talk to us about Brooks.
"We like his speed, which in today's NBA we know works," said Cooper. "If you look around the league at the point guards who've had success lately and how it's changed the game in Tony Parker, T.J. Ford, Chris Paul. Guys like that with speed with the no hand-checking rule in those situations, we think is valuable with the way Coach Adelman is going to play."
|The Rockets shocked their fans by taking a small point guard, Oregon's Aaron Brooks
At this point of the night, I'm getting over the initial shock a little bit and "slightly" starting to warm up to the Brooks pick. Not sold, but just thinking it through. He averaged 17.7 points on 46% shooting and though he wasn't a real good three-point shooter in college, he did hit over 40% as a senior. When you have as many short guards as the Rockets do (one media member asked Rockets staff if they were playing in a "6-foot-5 and under league" next year), they clearly had to see something in this kid to take him. It goes without saying that a trade is coming in the near future.
Of course the Rockets had made another trade, only this one didn't involve Brooks. Surprisingly they were able to acquire the first pick of the second round (#31 overall) from the Sonics for Houston's second-rounder next season, which is not going to be near as high as #31, and cash. The Rockets used that pick to select Purdue's Carl Landry.
Now I'm thinking I'll never trust sources for draft info again. Morey passed on Big Baby not once but twice, and I went in to the draft pretty convinced that the Rockets GM wanted Baby at 26 or in the early second round, as I'd heard that from multiple sources. Passed on the big man twice. Same for McRoberts. We got the scoop on the trade downstairs, but we didn't learn about it until pick #34, so the Rockets had already made their selection.
Landry is an interesting prospect. He's got meat on his bones (250 pounds), he's very active, he can score and he came at a low price. The knock? There are a few. He's not a super high-flyer and he's not the ideal height for a power forward at 6-foot-7, though his agent says he measured out at 6-foot-9 at the pre-draft camp. He's got a major injury to his name already (tore his ACL as a junior) and he's not super young (will be 24 in September).
|The Rockets landing the #31 was a great move, but Rockets fans hope Carl Landry makes them forget about passing on Glen Davis and Josh McRoberts
But the guy averaged 18.9 points on 59.7% shooting playing in the Big Ten -- he can score. We got Landry on the phone shortly after learning of the deal, and you could tell he was excited (see audio interview above).
"I think I can bring a lot to the table," said Landry. "I'm in a way I'm like Chuck Hayes but I can score. I'm going to rebound the ball, dive on the floor for loose balls, take charges - do the little things that it takes. I'm not going to be called upon right away to come score. You got Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady and those guys to do that, but I'm going to give the team a few extra possessions and try to win a championship this year."
The wait for pick #54 was long, but the Rockets selected Brad Newley, the 6-foot-6 sharpshooter out of Australia. So on top of all of China and half of Israel, the Rockets now will be scooping up the Aussie fans.
Newley, 22 years old, can shoot and score. He played the past three seasons with the Townsville Crocodiles in the NBL, Australia's premier pro basketball league. He averaged 22.4 points (5th in the league in scoring) on 45.1% shooting, 5.4 boards and 3.2 assists. He put up almost 7 threes a night, hitting 41% from downtown.
|Move over Lex Luthor -- the Rockets now own Australia
Rockets GM Daryl Morey, who came down to talk with us just as the 60th pick was made, said Newley will remain overseas.
Morey said the Rockets tried to move up and thought they had a deal in the "early 20's" (see audio interview above), but the team pulled out when their guy was available.
I've got a lot, lot, lot more to talk about in some stories not quite finished yet -- obviously a trade has to come here soon. I'll have those up later today.
However, I made the mistake of promising to take my kids to the water park "Splashtown" for a few hours the day after the NBA Draft, when I knew I'd be getting little to no sleep. That's kind of like having no power forward and taking a sixth point guard.
But then ending on a Splashtown reference might be the right thing, because well ...